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disaster risk management

Understanding Risk Forum 2018: How data and technology can save (hundreds of) billions of dollars from natural disasters

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
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Natural disasters made 2017 a very expensive year.
 
At $330 billion, last year’s global losses from disasters set a record. These economic losses were primarily a result of meteorological events, such as floods and hurricanes, which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. An increasing number of people are also exposed to tectonic risks, such as earthquakes and landslides, due to rapid urbanization.
 
But growing disaster losses aren’t inevitable. Policy changes, education, and good disaster risk management practices have been proven to reduce losses – and the foundation of all of them is accurate, reliable information about disaster risks.
 
Risk data informs resilience investments. It drives decision-making. And it’s the focus of the open, global community of disaster risk management experts and practitioners called Understanding Risk (UR), which is supported by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR).
 
This year, the community will convene at the Understanding Risk Forum 2018 May 14–18 in Mexico City. The Forum will highlight best practices, facilitate nontraditional partnerships, and showcase the latest technical knowledge in disaster risk identification.



It’s a critical time for a discussion of disaster risk information. A new GFDRR report, Aftershocks: Remodeling the Past for a Resilient Future, concludes that if past disasters were to repeat in the same places today, the losses would be far greater. Aftershocks, which will be discussed at UR2018, explores what we can learn from historic disasters to anticipate similar future events and build resilience ahead of time.
 
The good news is that the past few years have seen a surge of new ways to get more accurate, more detailed information more quickly, more easily, and in more difficult contexts. We can now use social media to gather increasingly valuable information in the immediate aftermath of an event. Drones are increasingly capturing high-quality images, and machine learning for image recognition is already helping us produce more and better risk data all the time.
 
These emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence and machine learning, will be one of the major themes of this year’s UR Forum. To find out more about the UR Forum, and how you can get involved, watch the video blog and visit understandrisk.org.
 
And don’t forget to keep up with all the great ideas coming out of #UR2018 by following along on Twitter: @UnderstandRisk, @GFDRR, and @WBG_Cities.

Tackling a known unknown: How post-disaster aid can provide what people really need

Markus Kostner's picture
Photo: Patrick Barron (World Bank)

Within a few weeks of the disaster, the tents, half a dozen of them, were lined up along a creek where houses with bamboo walls and nipa roofs had once stood. They were brand new… and empty. They had been provided to survivors of Nargis, the cyclone that killed an estimated 140,000 people in the Ayeyarwady Delta of Myanmar in one night in 2008.
 
However, despite these provisions, the cyclone survivors preferred to stay in makeshift huts they had built on the other side of the village path with any materials they could find. The tents were too flimsy, they said, and could fly away if another storm kicked up.

Sometime thereafter, they packed the tents neatly and stored them with other items they had also received and never used: sleeping bags much too warm for the monsoon climate, and gasoline stoves where no gasoline was sold.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
Ponto-cho Alley, Kyoto. (Barbara Minguez Garcia / World Bank, 2016)
 

Ponto-cho mapIt is 7:45 p.m. in Ponto-cho, the historic narrow alley at the core of the Japanese city of Kyoto. Close to the Kaburenjo Theater – where still today Geikos and Maikos (Kyoto Geishas) practice their dances and performances – the traditional adjoining buildings with restaurants and shops are full of guests. Local people, tourists, students… On this Saturday in mid-April, the warm weather brings a lot of people to the streets nearby.

At 7:46 p.m., a M 5.1 earthquake strikes. Seven seconds of swaying. It doesn’t cause major damage, but it is enough to spread panic among a group of tourists. Screams, shoving, confusion… drinks spill, candles fall, people rush.

At 7:49 p.m., the fire starts spreading through the old wooden structures, also threatening the historic theater. Access is difficult due to the narrow streets and panicking crowd.

What happens next?

It could be a fire in the Ponto-cho traditional alley. It could be an earthquake shaking the historic center of Kathmandu (Nepal), the archaeological site of Bagan (Myanmar), or the historic town of Amatrice (Italy). It could be Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines or Hurricane Irma in the Caribbean, blasting sites with rain, flooding, and gale-force winds.

Cultural heritage assets around the world are at risk. They are often vulnerable due to their age, as well as previous interventions and restorations made without disaster risk or overall site stability in mind. Heritage sites reflect legacies, traditions, and identities. With all this, they carry a large cultural and emotional value of what could be lost – certainly beyond the traditional calculus of economic losses.

In many cases, it is not possible or advisable to conduct reconstruction on cultural heritage sites post-disaster. Therefore, the essence and soul of a cultural heritage site is at risk of being lost forever, making preparedness and preservation even more critical.

How can we protect these special places and traditions from the threat of natural hazards?

Go with the flow – adaptive management for urban flood risk

Adeline Choy's picture
Photo: Flooding in Yangon. Source: Flickr


The future is uncertain. It’s hard to know exactly how our climate will change. That means there is also deep uncertainty around its impacts on flooding, the most prevalent disaster worldwide. Floods account for 43% of all recorded disaster events in the past 20 years. Will climate change exacerbate flooding events? How much will sea level rise? How extreme will rainfall be?

What we do know is that the best way to cope with uncertainty is flexibility.

While it may be difficult to predict impacts, we can – and must – take action. Growing uncertainty means preparation is even more urgent. To meet future challenges, we need adaptable urban flood management today.

Better forecast, better preparedness – investing in improved weather services

Adeline Choy's picture

Sun or rain? Most of us rely on the daily weather forecast to know what to wear or whether to bring an umbrella. However, for millions of people living in flood prone areas, timely and accurate forecasts, as well as early warning, can impact more than just clothing choices –they can help minimize flooding impacts.
 
Floods are the most frequent and damaging among natural hazards. Between 1980 and 2016, floods led to economic damages exceeding US$1.6 trillion, and more than 225,000 people losing their lives. Compounded by rapid urbanization and climate change, these losses will likely increase, especially in fast-growing countries.

Communicating volcanic risk: lava, eruptions and uncertainty

Jon Mikel Walton's picture
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA
Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala, one of Central America’s most active volcanos, spews ash and lava flows in January 2018, just 70 kilometers west of Guatemala City. Image credit: NASA

We live in an age of compounding uncertainty. The unpredictable impacts of climate change and the rapid urbanization of societies is increasing the complexity, difficulty, and necessity of making sound decisions when faced with numerous options. This uncertainty is acute with respect to natural disasters – for example, predicting hurricane intensity or locating the next big earthquake remain challenging tasks despite advances in science and monitoring tools.
 
The challenge of anticipating and communicating the risk of volcanic eruptions to communities requires complex decision-making. Ecuador’s Cotopaxi Volcano and Indonesia’s Mount Agung are recent examples where the warning signs were present (small earthquakes, increasing gas emissions, and more), yet an eruption came much later than expected. Volcanic eruptions are therefore a double-edged sword that often creates a decision-making dilemma. While signs of volcanic activity can provide adequate time for preparation and evacuation, the very same signs can also create conditions of extreme uncertainty, which can be exacerbated by piecemeal communication around eruption events.
 
So, what have we learned from recent experiences on the challenges of communicating volcanic risk? 

Connecting with the people beyond the computers: my experience in flood risk management in Buenos Aires

Catalina Ramirez's picture
Also available in Español 

After spending several years in front of a computer every day, I began to feel removed from those people who were the real reason for my work, which aims to build a safer, healthier and more prosperous environment. But when people I knew were directly affected by the issues I was working on, my work took on more meaning and urgency.

Managing climate risks in South Asia: A “bottom up” approach

Poonam Pillai's picture
Surma river between Bangladesh and India
The Surma River that flows between Bangladesh and India. Photo Credit: Poonam Pillai

Being from Kolkata, I have always been used to floods. Prolonged flooding typically meant schools and offices closed, traffic jams and a much-needed respite from the tropical summer heat. However, it was during a field visit to the flood prone northeastern border of Bangladesh, where rivers from India flow downstream into Bangladesh, that I fully appreciated the importance of disaster early warning systems and regional collaboration in saving lives, property, enabling communities to evacuate and prepare for extreme weather events.

Disaster early warning systems, along with other information services based on weather, water and climate data (sometimes known as “hydromet” or “climate services”) play a key role in disaster preparedness and improving the productivity and performance of climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture.  Along with investments in resilient infrastructure, risk financing strategies and capacity building measures, they are a key part of a toolkit for strengthening disaster and climate resilience.  Research shows that for every dollar spent on disaster early warning systems, the benefits range from $2-10.  In South Asia, these are particularly important given the region’s extreme vulnerability to climate risks and staggering socio-economic costs arising from extreme weather events.

Mind the gap: How bringing together cities and private investors can close the funding gap for urban resilience

Marc Forni's picture

Image: World Bank

By 2050, two-thirds of all people will live in cities. Each year, 72.8 million more people live in urban areas. That’s the equivalent of a new San Diego appearing every week.
 
But fast growth, and a high concentration of people and assets, makes cities vulnerable to climate change and disasters. By 2030, climate change alone could force up to 77 million urban residents into poverty.

As we celebrate Earth Day 2018 and continue the fight against climate change, cities are striving to become more sustainable, investing in ways to reduce their vulnerability to disasters and climate change. Achieving resilience is the goal – and the good news is that cities aren’t alone on the team.

Even duller disasters? How earlier finance can save lives in emergencies

Nicola Ranger's picture
© International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank 2016
© World Bank


Putting in place the funding, systems, and plans before a disaster strikes can help dull the impact of disasters by enabling earlier, faster and more effective response and recovery.

But can we go further, making disasters even ‘duller’ by also releasing finance before a disaster strikes? 

UN Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, recently set out a compelling vision for how the humanitarian system can be improved. He argued that “disasters are predictable… we need to move from today’s approach where we watch disaster and tragedy build, gradually decide to respond, and then mobilise money and organisations to help, to an anticipatory approach, where we plan in advance for the next crises, putting the response plans and money for them before they arrive, and releasing the money and mobilising the response agencies as soon as they are needed…”


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